14 May 2016

Hong Kong beat South Korea 34-27 on the back of a 77th minute try from fly-half Ben Rimene to claim their second away victory against Korea in two years and take second place in the Asia Rugby Championship table after three rounds.

Hong Kong got off to a fast start after full-back Alex McQueen finished an early breakaway from winger Ryan Meacheam to race away beneath the posts for the first score of the match in the 5th minute. The McQueen-Meacheam pairing in the back three continues to show results as the two continue to build familiarity with each other with Meacheam making just his second start for Hong Kong.

Rimene’s conversion of McQueen’s try was successful, setting him on the path for a perfect day with the boot with three conversions and two penalties, and giving Hong Kong an early 7-0 lead.

As expected, South Korea replied ferociously, turning the ball over off the re-start, a problem area for Hong Kong this afternoon, to push deep into Hong Kong’s territory. Full-back Lee Jae-Bok soon found space in the Hong Kong’s defensive line to pull the hosts within two points at 7-5 after winger Lee Soop-Yeong’s conversion was unsuccessful.

Hong Kong’s next sustained attack produced more points with Rimene slotting over a penalty from 22 metres to extend the visitors’ advantage to 10-5. Rimene continued his strong outing with a second penalty in the 18th minute, pushing Hong Kong out to 13-5 lead in a scrappy first-half that saw both teams commit numerous handling errors.

Hong Kong again struggled to take the South Korean re-start cleanly with the arcing kicks from fly-half Oh Jim-Yeong putting the visitors under real pressure. Exacerbating some untimely handling errors on attack, Hong Kong’s scrum was put under significant pressures by the beefy Korean pack as the match went on, with the visitors losing two of their scrums in the opening forty minutes.

Ever dangerous with the scent of opportunity in their noses, South Korea battled back well from their own miscues to score their second try of the match in the 38th minute when centre Kim Jin-Hyeok neatly stepped flanker Toby Fenn before offloading to his mid-field partner Kim Sung-Soo who crossed over the line and burrowed in close to the posts. Winger Lee’s second conversion attempt was true bringing the hosts to just one point off the lead at half-time at 13-12.

Hong Kong’s scrum woes continued in the second half, as they lost their first put-in of the final frame after swapping both props out at the break. Korea took advantage of the error to work the ball deep into Hong Kong’s territory with the resulting pressure seeing captain Nick Hewson pinged for entering the ruck from an offsides position.

After foregoing multiple kickable penalties in the first half in favour of attacking lineouts, South Korea opted for the penalty kick. Lee struck it solidly to give the hosts their first lead of the match at 15-13.

Shortly after that penalty, Korea committed another unforced error as centre Kim Jeon-Hyeok was sin-binned after taking McQueen in the air as the full-back was collecting another high ball. Kim’s yellow card would prove disastrous for the hosts as Hong Kong took full advantage of their numerical superiority to score two tries in quick succession.

The first came through the aggrieved party, McQueen, who collected his brace after Meacheam made another solid mid-field break, before off-loading to flanker Toby Fenn who drove the ball further towards Korea’s line before popping up to a well-placed McQueen for his second try of the afternoon.

Rimene added the extras to re-take the advantage at 20-15.

With extra space on the pitch created by Hong Kong’s numerical advantage, the visitors continued to inject tempo into their attack with some strong support play as the forwards and backs linked well to keep Korea penned in its own half.

In the 55th minute, Hong Kong won an attacking scrum on the Korean five-metre line. The ball made its way out to centre Lex Kaleca who was gang-tackled at the line but still managed to pop the ball up to onrushing scrum-half Jamie Hood who touched down for Hong Kong’s third try of the match, extending the lead to 27-15 with 15 minutes remaining.

Back at full-strength, some dogged Korean attacking play saw the hosts methodically build their momentum through a series of multiple phase attacks. Sustained pressure resulted in Korea’s first try of the second half as full-back Lee collected his second after a good build-up period for the hosts. Winger Lee Soop-Yeong’s conversion pulled Korea within five points of the lead trailing 27-22 with 12 minutes remaining.

With the crowd cheering them on South Korea reverted again to their steady phase-play attack, pressurising Hong Kong’s defence through eight phases as they perched on Hong Kong’s five-metre line. Korea’s forwards set a solid attacking platform deep in Hong Kong’s territory, creating an easy opportunity for hooker Na Kwan-Young who cut against the Hong Kong defence to crash through for the Korean’s fourth try of the afternoon.

Lee Soop-Yeong’s conversion to retake the lead was wide but the scores were level at 27-all setting up a climactic final ten minutes. With the momentum having swung in their favour, South Korea continued to look dangerous but late-match accuracy issues and poor decision-making under pressure – indicators that the hosts still have work to do on their conditioning programme - helped Hong Kong shut down the Korean comeback.

On a late foray in the Korean half, Rimene spotted the space behind Korea’s charging defence, backing himself with a beautifully weighted chip-and-chase try in the 77th minute. Rimene’s conversion gave Hong Kong the 34-27 win and Hong Kong’s second away victory in Korea in as many seasons.

“The boys stuck it out for the full 80 minutes and it was good to get the win,” said captain Hewson after the match. “Late in the game, we knew that we needed to get and hold possession and to play more in their half,” added the flanker.

Coach Leigh Jones described the victory as “sweet and sour,” adding that “while there were a lot of good things out there today, our scrum was very ordinary which made us work a little bit harder than we should have for that win. But the boys did well to hook in and dig out the win and tactically we were quite smart today. We played to our game plan quite well, but our set piece continues to let us down, especially the scrum and our re-starts. We need consistency at the set-piece.”

Jones was less than pleased to concede the late comeback to Korea, saying, “You can’t switch off versus Korea, they are a good side, but overall I’m pleased with our defence. We did well to win that game.”

Both sides earned their first points on the table with Hong Kong climbing into second place on five points, (behind Japan with 10), after the win and a bonus point for scoring four or more tries. South Korea collected two bonus points for scoring four tries and a loss within seven as they bring up the bottom of the table. Hong Kong will now enter their bye week before travelling away to Japan and closing out the ARC campaign at Hong Kong Football Club versus South Korea on 4 June.